Proposed New Mexico science standards edit out basic facts

Enlarge / New Mexico, land of disenchantment.

In the US, most education standards are set by the states, and local communities are free to develop lesson plans that ensure that their students meet the state’s expectations. Unfortunately, that has often led to education standards becoming ideological battlegrounds, as different groups try to put their stamp on things like history education. Even more unfortunately, battles often break out over basic reality, as scientific topics that people reject for cultural or ideological reasons—think evolution and climate change—can get diluted or eliminated entirely from the state standards.

In an attempt to make it easier for states to handle science education a bit better, a group of prestigious scientific societies banded together to make their own science education standards. The resulting Next Generation Science Standards were offered to the states free of charge, allowing them to be adopted in their entirety or modified to fit a state’s needs.

Last week, it became apparent that New Mexico’s modification of the standards was a bit extreme, eliminating references to climate change, the age of the Earth, and evolution. And this week, some New Mexico legislators are blaming it on a misguided attempt to “politically sanitize” the science.

The problems came to light earlier in August, when New Mexico’s Public Education department released a formal notice that it was seeking input on new science standards. (The notice and changes in the rules are both available as .docx downloads.) Mother Jones decided to have a look at some of the changes, and they were rather striking.

For example, a mention of “Earth’s 4.6-billion-year-old geologic history” was chopped down to “Earth’s history,” neatly getting rid of the information about how old it is. A reference to the evolution of life was cut entirely. The clear rise in global temperatures was swapped out in favor of talk about temperature fluctuations. In…

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